When the COVID-19 threat is finally over (or significantly diminishes), what will normal work and life look like? It’s unrealistic to think that overnight we’ll suddenly revert to the way things were in the middle of 2019. An Associated Press article that appeared recently in the Chicago Tribune (Nations charting the path to normalcy) quoted several governments and health officials speaking about orchestrating an end to virus-related restrictions. Everyone agreed that when the virus threat eases, we’ll see a very gradual easing of restrictions to prevent a second wave of contagion. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to linger for quite some time. 
 

In an excellent article in Forbes (The Impact Of The Coronavirus On HR And The New Normal Of Work), Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace, says, “The Covid-19 virus is becoming the accelerator for one of the greatest workplace transformations of our lifetime. How do we work, exercise, shop, learn, communicate, and of course, where we work, will be changed forever!” She cites a Gartner finding that 88% of Americans who are currently working are working from home. That number is bound to go down as the pandemic eases, but it may not go down drastically, especially since in many areas it appears that schools will be out for the rest of the school year. 
 

In the article, Meister makes several interesting predictions with training implications.

• CEOs Will Be Bold in Protecting and Investing in Their People 

Among other things, investing in your people means investing in the whole person. This opens training requirements not only in traditional skills training but also training in physical and mental health and well-being.

• There Will Be a Surge in Remote Working after the Coronavirus 

The ongoing situation not only requires a change in corporate learning strategy but in many cases, it requires training people on “how to work from home.” Several of the clients I work with have many locations and virtual teams composed of individuals all over the world. For them, the transition to the current environment has been relatively seamless. For others however, it’s a completely new experience with a new set of challenges. I’ve worked at home for the better part of the last decade, and I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned in a future blog post. If you’re a corporate learning leader though and working from home is a new experience for parts of your organization, it is essential to teach your personnel how to be productive while working at home

• Learning Will Be Radically Transformed 

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak began, industry experts estimated the e-Learning market to triple by 2025, reaching $325 billion. That estimate is bound to increase as corporations look to restructure their training

• Organizations will Double Down on Re-Skilling Workers 

Meister predicts the effects of the pandemic will accelerate business toward the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the need for equipping many existing workers for new jobs in the next-generation workplace. This too presents training needs for teaching workers new skills. 
 
In short, many of the impacts of the current pandemic are likely to be long-lasting if not permanent. The adaptations we make now will not only get us through the current crisis but equip us for surviving the next one. I recommend Meister’s article to everyone, and don’t hesitate to reach out to Mastech Digital if you need help to formulate your training strategy in this “new normal.” 



There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the workplace. I recently read a finding from Gartner that 88% of Americans who are currently working are working from home. For many, this is uncharted territory. I have worked from home for most of the last decade. Here are a few things, I have learned from experience.

Set aside a dedicated workspace. My kids are grown, and I can use a spare bedroom as an office, but not everyone has that luxury. I certainly did not when I started working at home. Sometimes my workspace was the dining room table. Sometimes it was a table in the corner of our family room. Whether it is a TV tray in your living room or a nightstand in your bedroom, it is important to have a consistent place from which to do business. This will help you keep your business stuff organized, and it will help you draw a line between business activities and home activities. 

Develop a schedule and try to keep regular hours. Make sure your virtual colleagues know your work schedule, so they know when they can get a hold of you. Barring any scheduled meetings, I typically start work around 8 a.m., break for lunch around noon, and try to wrap up for the day between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. depending on what I am in the middle of. During the pandemic, some have the added challenge of having to juggle work with their kids and homeschooling. That is a challenge I have not had to face, but my kids have. In those situations, developing a schedule is doubly important. Setting aside specific times for your work activities, and your kids’ activities will help you and them. 

Put everything into your calendar and keep up to date. This will remind you when it is time for work and when it is time for your kid’s online meeting with his or her teacher. If you work in an organization where others can see your calendar for scheduling meetings, then your colleagues will know when you are available to meet, and when you are not. 
(Try to) draw lines between personal and work life. This can be hard sometimes. When you worked in an office, you could walk out the door at the end of the day and be in a world outside work. When you work at home, you may feel like you are living in your workplace instead of working in your home. In the beginning, I struggled not to feel like I was always at work. Having a dedicated workplace and a regular schedule will help with this. 

Avoid distractions. Some like to work with music or the TV in the background. I like quiet. Do whatever works best for you. At present, you may have kids at home who are noisy at times, but the more you can eliminate distractions, the more productive you will be.

Stay connected. Today, most people have access to high-speed Internet, and the more speed, the better. Part of what I do involves creating e-Learning modules, and I often need to move huge files around. You may find yourself in online meetings where you are not only streaming audio but video as well. There is no substitute for bandwidth. Sign up for the best you can get (or afford). 

Reach out and talk to someone. Until you work at home, you may not realize how often you had personal interactions with others in your office. Do not hesitate to talk to your virtual colleagues. Usually a short conversation or group meeting can be a lot more productive than composing a lengthy email that then requires a lengthy response, and it helps your avoided feeling like you’re working in solitary confinement. 

After the stay-at-home requirements ease, many of us are going to find ourselves working a home more than we did before the pandemic. Everyone is different, and you will have to develop your work-at-home routine, but these are a few of the things that helped me in my transition from in-office to remote work.



In my previous blog post, I described how rushing to convert instructor-led training to self-paced eLearning may not be the most effective approach for your learners or your organization. But what else are you going to do given the constraints of sheltering in place and social distancing?  

Probably the quickest solution is to have the instructor present the class to a remote audience. There are a variety of remote presentation tools in the marketplace, and chances are you already use one anyway. However running a virtual class presents some different challenges from managing a classroom. Nobody wants to sit at their computer watching PowerPoint slides all day. Left to their own devices, people tend to multi-task or wander off to make coffee at times other than designated breaks. So converting an on-site class to a virtual class still requires some design effort, but not as much as converting the class to self-paced eLearning.

Also, not every subject works in eLearning. I remember one project where a client had several weeks of instructor-led training they wanted converted to eLearning. We told them it wasn’t going to work because the content was full of very difficult concepts that required a lot of hands-on practice to master. They wanted it converted anyway, and 18 months later they contracted with us again to redesign the curriculum using a blended approach. Blended learning is a very good approach for converting classroom instruction to remote delivery relatively quickly. Take straight lecture-type content and convert that to self-paced, and bring learners together virtually for group discussions, activities, and Q&A with the instructor.

Your specific approach for moving to remote delivery requires considering a number of factors including

  • What is the current content? 
  • Who are the current learners? 
  • Who are the current instructors? 
  • What are your goals and objectives? 
  • What are the time constraints?
  • What are the logistical and technological constraints?  

 Mastech Digital’s Digital Learning group can help you answer those questions and develop a unique solution to accomplish your goals. 



Given the COVID-19 pandemic, remote learning has become more important than ever. Every day, new offers appear in my Inbox. “We can help you convert all your instructor-led training into eLearning. We can do it faster and cheaper than anyone else.” Well, Mastech Digital could do that too, but we will not. In the rush to convert ILT to eLearning, I think often good design and effectiveness sometimes get left by the wayside. Throughout my career, I have probably converted hundreds of hours of instructor-led training into eLearning. It is not as simple as importing the instructor’s PowerPoint slides into an eLearning authoring tool. It requires forethought and attention to good design principles.

After all, the goal is to have the learner get as much out of the eLearning course as they would from an instructor-led course. This requires some careful design work to allow learners to reinforce the content in a way that might have been accomplished with a group discussion or in-class exercises in an instructor-led environment. Getting learners to apply the learning content is the real key. You cannot just throw content at them and follow it up with a few multiple-choice questions. You need to design activities that will get learning to apply what they learned realistically.

If you were hiring someone to help intentionally build self-paced eLearning instead of madly rushing to convert content, you would probably insist on some elements that typically make eLearning more effective and engaging. For example, research shows that eLearning programs that tell a story are much more impactful than programs that just present content. Most people are naturally competitive, and research also shows that eLearning is more engaging (i.e. more likely to be completed instead of abandoned) when you can include some game-like elements. You should not have to settle for less just because you’re in a hurry.

Furthermore, there is no legitimate cookie-cutter solution for converting instructor-led content to eLearning. In many ways, your content and your learners are unique to your organization, and they present different design considerations.

Mastech Digital could assist you with a mad rush to convert content to eLearning, but we would rather not. We would rather help you find the best way to get your content to your learners in a way that makes the most sense and provides the most effective path to learning. Converting instructor-led content directly into eLearning may not be the best approach for you.

We will explore that a little more in my next blog post.



A recent ATD (Association for Talent Development) Learning Technologies newsletter featured an article titled “Applications and Drawbacks of Immersive Learning Tech” by Danielle Wallace (no relation). The term “Immersive Technologies” encompasses Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Virtual Reality uses a computer-generated environment programmed to simulate a person’s physical presence in that environment and is designed to feel real. Augmented Reality uses computer-generated graphics, sound, text, and effects superimposed on the user’s real-world environment to enhance their experience.

To date, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality have been primarily the domain of gamers and marketers. Both technologies have the potential for huge impacts on learning and development. I think Virtual Reality could be extremely effective for role-playing situations in management or sales training. Augmented Reality has already seen some impressive applications in medical, manufacturing, and plant operation training.

However, Immersive Technologies have been relatively slow to take off in the Learning and Development space. Why is that? Is it the cost of the headsets? Is it the cost of the development tools? According to the article, the number one obstacle to implementing Immersive Technologies in Learning and Development is people. The author says, “Certain skill sets are required to design the full 3D interface needed for a truly effective, complex virtual experience—and employees in an L&D department don’t typically possess these design skills.” She goes on to say “To further the evolution of these emerging technologies and realize their maximum potential, these skill sets need to be taught, hired into L&D, or sought externally” (my italics added for emphasis).

This is where a company like Mastech Digital can really help. Mastech Digital has the proven ability to supply skilled instructional designers who are adept at designing effective learning scenarios and skilled programmers who can build the complex 3D environments required by Immersive Technologies, thus blending the skill sets required for an Immersive Technology project.



Do you ever find yourself looking in a dictionary? I did just the other day. Ever so often, I need to check the precise meaning of a word or a variant spelling. That could lead to the question, “What’s wrong with you? Didn’t you learn vocabulary and spelling in school?” Sure, we all did, but almost all of us have references that we rely on from time to time for a variety of subjects. That may seem obvious, but it’s not necessarily the attitude carried by learning leaders in many organizations. Many carry the attitude that “people have been trained, they’re going to put it into practice, and they’re going to remember it for the rest of their lives (or at least the rest of their careers).”

If you’ve ever experienced a training program first-hand, you know that’s simply not true. Real behavior modification – the goal of any training program – requires continual reminders and the quick availability of reference information. This can take the form of job aids or checklists for training that teaches a skill, quick lookup information for subjects like corporate policies, or a variety of other things. We tend to call this group of assets, performance support.

Still, many learning leaders pour a lot of resources into creating training courses, but continually shortchange the need for performance support. In the end, everyone is unhappy. Learners are frustrated because they remember being exposed to critical procedures or information, but they can’t find it quickly. Leaders are unhappy because it appears that the training program in which they invested heavily was ineffective.

A truly effective training program is a dual-edged sword. It requires well-designed training accompanied by well-designed performance support. Many learning leaders feel they can’t afford performance support because they already sunk a lot of resources into the training course. Good performance support doesn’t have to be an expensive add-on. In many cases, it’s just a matter of taking content that was already gathered to build the training course and presenting it in a different way for performance support. It can be relatively simple, but the effect on learners’ job performance can be profound.

Let’s get back to the dictionary for a minute. Sure, I have a dictionary sitting on the bookshelf over my desk. But most often, I open the Merriam-Webster dictionary app that’s on my phone. It’s quicker to find words in, and it travels everywhere with me. Those are a couple hallmarks of well-designed performance support.

It needs to be easy to find what you’re looking for, and it needs to be available whenever (and wherever) the user needs it. Increasingly, that means making it available through a mobile app. That typically checks off the instant availability and portability requirements. There are great tools available for creating responsive, mobile-friendly performance support. If you are a learning leader, I urge you to seriously consider ongoing performance-support as part of your next learning project. We at Mastech Digital – a leading provider of digital learning services enabling digital business transformation – would love to engage you in a conversation about it.

James-Wallace
James Wallace
Consultant Manager



With the New Year just around the corner, it’s a good time to take a look at trends across digital learning services that I expect to continue in the New Year as well as emerging ones.

Individual Learning Over Group Learning
First is the continuing decline of formal learning events (i.e. classes) in favor of learning that is delivered individually, when and where it is needed. The commonly-accepted definition of “digital learning” is “learning at work”, and the emphasis industry-wide continues to be on shorter pieces of learning delivered to individuals who need them while they are at their desk, workplace, or job site. Research performed by the Association for Talent Development (ATD) shows that the use of formal, instructor-led training delivery has been declining for several years, while the use of self-paced, on-demand learning continues to grow. Expect this trend to continue in 2019 and beyond.

Mobile Learning
A related trend is the increasing use of mobile technologies to deliver training and performance-support (reference) information. Not everyone works in an office, even part of the day anymore. Sales Representatives and Service Technicians are on the road almost all the time. One of the biggest drivers of formal instructor-led training used to be things like, “Let’s bring in all the field technicians and train them on the new product.” That could be an expensive proposition depending on the size and dispersal of the audience. Mobile delivery allows employees like these to receive training while they are on the road or even at a customer’s site. In the last few years, e-learning authoring tools have become significantly better at creating good, responsive, mobile-friendly programs, making it easier than ever before to create mobile-friendly learning and reference information. Look for 2019 to bring increased emphasis on mobile delivery.

Learning Analytics
Data analytics has become a very hot topic, with all kinds of businesses using analytics to help formulate strategy and make tactical decisions. Data analytics has applications in the learning industry as well. How effective was that training? Did it affect anyone’s job performance? How much time was spent taking it? How could we make it better? Unfortunately, many corporate learning organizations have been limited by the reports that come out of their Learning Management Systems (LMS). However, recent research has shown that it is not all that difficult to go way beyond simple LMS reports by pulling together data from different sources and answering the questions posed earlier in this paragraph. And you don’t necessarily need a fancy big data solution to do it. If you have automated processes to pull data from different sources together, that’s great. But even if you pull it together manually and compile it in Excel spreadsheets, you can still get valid results and make better decisions. I look for learning analytics to really take off in 2019, or maybe it will be 2020, but it’s definitely on the horizon.

VR & AR
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have been getting closer to mainstream for a few years. What’s the difference? VR totally immerses a person in an artificial environment, like being in a first-person action/adventure video game. AR overlays information on top of what a person is seeing in real life, like a fighter pilot’s heads-up display. Personally, I think AR has really exciting possibilities in learning. Imagine performing maintenance on a piece of manufacturing machinery with step-by step instructions popping up on the inside of your safety glasses, or learning a medical operation (hopefully on a cadaver) with pictures and instructions popping up in your glasses. Like most new technology, the goggles and the tools to build programs were very expensive at the start. But in the last couple years, the costs have been coming down. Again, it may be 2020 or beyond, but I expect AR in particular to have a big impact in selected areas in the near future.

In addition to these, there are a few other current trends that should continue into 2019 and beyond. The increased use of video is one of them. If “a picture is worth 1,000 words”, then a video is worth at least 10,000 words. Video used to be really expensive to produce, but now you can get acceptable results for many applications using a hand-held mobile device. I’m seeing more and more short, informal videos inserted in learning, and I expect that trend to continue. Other trends I expect to continue include the increasing use of learning games and gamification, and shifts to simulation and story-based e-learning. It’s an exciting time to be in the learning industry. With that said, have a happy, prosperous, and innovative New Year!

James-Wallace
James Wallace
Consultant Manager



What is “digital learning”? Most people in the industry define it as “learning at work”, and workplace learning is what we are all about in the Digital Learning Services part of Mastech Digital. We work with our clients on a daily basis to provide learning experiences that are relevant and easily accessed by clients’ employees while they are on the job. Two major factors are affecting the impact this effort has today and in the not-too-distant future.

The first factor is the distribution of workforces on several levels. On a global level, many of our clients are multinational companies and operate seamlessly in facilities spread around the globe. Corporate learning has had to adapt to that kind of operating environment, and many corporate universities with brick-and-mortar facilities have become primarily “virtual” universities. On a local level, we’ve experienced a trend toward more and more employees working remotely, at least part of the time. A recent Gallup survey showed that 43 percent of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely. This includes employees who work from home offices as well as sales representatives and service technicians who spend most of their time on the road. Digital learning reaches these employees wherever they are with skill development, leadership development, compliance training, and other essential topics.

The second factor is the digital transformation of the workplace. Many experts say that we are on the verge of a workplace transformation unprecedented since the introduction of computers. Continuing advances in robotics and Artificial Intelligence will automate more and more jobs. An Oxford University study determined that 50 percent of today’s jobs worldwide could be automated by 2025, and the American Academy for the Advancement of Science estimates that 50 percent of American jobs could be lost to automation as early as 2030. But along with the loss of jobs to automation will come a growth in different kinds of jobs, particularly technology-oriented jobs. Finding people with the right skills to fill those jobs in the future will be a major challenge for many companies in the future. The supply of people with the right skills will probably not be able to meet the need. Companies looking to transform their technology and business processes need to be critically concerned with transforming their current employee populations and developing new skills in them. Digital learning can help with that transformation too by upgrading the skill of employees in small, easily digestible chunks while on the job.

Although it’s hard to predict exactly what skills employees will need to develop in the next ten years, companies can start future-proofing their employees by training them to be more adaptive and develop skill that resist automation. These include critical thinking skills, complex problem solving, design thinking, creativity and innovation, and change acceptance. When specific skill needs do evolve, employees will be ready, and Mastech Digital – a leading Digital Transformation services company with a robust Digital Learning practice – can help transfer those specific skills too.

 

Consultant-James-Wallace
James Wallace

Consultant Manager



When was the last time you did a needs analysis? When was the last time you should have done a needs analysis?

ATD released some interesting data recently. Out of the organizations surveyed, which employed digital learning services, only 56% said they did needs analysis for learning projects, 37% said they did not, and the remaining 7% were not sure. For organizations that did needs analysis, the following table shows, top to bottom, the most frequently used methods of data gathering, compared to what they perceived as the most effective methods of data gathering.

Blog-Infographic-1

Surveys are quick and easy, but they are also among the least effective methods. What’s striking is that the most effective methods were the ones that involve personal contact and relationship building, not only with SMEs, but more importantly with potential learners. What skill gaps do they perceive? What additional job support is needed from their perspective? Interviews and focus groups are obviously great, but don’t underestimate the usefulness of observation, especially when it’s framed as shadowing or “can I tag along with you on this job and ask a few questions?” Surveys are typically anonymous, which is often seen as a plus, but there is a downside too in that they can often raise suspicion. “Why are you asking all these questions?” “Is the company getting ready to reorganize and lay us off?” “What does management want to hear that will protect my job?” The methods that involve personal interaction help build trust and generate honest feedback.

When it comes to gathering data for a needs analysis, we typically draw on a number of sources. Of the organizations surveyed, 78% said they used SMEs, 71% used learners’ managers, 69% used learners, 60% used senior leaders, and 56% used previous training evaluation results. As I mentioned above, it’s really important to involve the learners, and almost a third of the time, their voice goes unheard. They typically want to help fix the problem because they feel the consequences of the problem.

So why don’t more organizations conduct needs analyses for training projects? Those surveyed cited lots of reasons including lack of time, lack of resources, getting buy-in from senior leaders, and difficulty in convincing others to do a needs analysis. The overwhelming number one response, however, was “stakeholders believe they already know the needs.” Have you ever run into that one before? I certainly have. It’s tough to convince stakeholders that they might not know the extent of the needs, or that they are trying to solve a non-training problem by throwing training at it. (Are you familiar with Gilbert’s Six Boxes? That’s a great tool for showing a client what problems can be solved with training and what problems require adjusting other job aspects.)

Mastech Digital is a leading digital transformation services company with a robust practice dedicated to the intricacies of digital learning services. When we scope projects, we often propose starting with a short analysis phase to validate the “needs analysis” that was already done.  Sometimes that’s as little as 20-40 hours, depending on the project. It’s a relatively small investment for the client, but it allows us to confirm what the stakeholders believed or discover the extent of the actual needs and adjust the project scope accordingly.

 

Author James Wallace 
James Wallace
Consultant Manager



On any given day, an organization’s senior leadership can be involved in numerous tasks, some of which, may not even be related to that individual’s managerial function. So, how do the upper layers of a company stay abreast of trending tools and technologies, and potential opportunities, if they’re bogged down by a plethora of other issues? How do they grow, professionally?

While face-to-face training has been the norm for quite a while now, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to spare that kind of time and money in such a dynamic and competitive market. Imagine your senior leadership being out of sight in a moment of crisis. Sure, contingency plans always exist, but after all, guidance from your mentor is like none other.

For executives, digital learning programs work best as they allow leaders to continuously learn and grow without interfering in professional and personal lives, and keep an executive motivated to complete such programs given the more appealing and interactive nature. Coming in the form of e-learning and virtual learning, mobile learning, social learning, and even hybrid learning for a more holistic experience; digital learning services provide organizational leaders with benefits that positively affect not only the individual, but trickling up, the organization overall.

Digital resources provide management with greater flexibility, allowing them to focus on what’s required in the moment, while still working towards furthering their professional prowess at a more convenient time. This also means significant cost-savings to the organization, allowing the individual to progress at a steady rate while financial resources can be allocated in such a manner to supplement the education being provided, reaping greater benefits for the organization as a whole.

Additionally, “self-paced” can still mean “on pace” when done right! Specialized learning techniques such as games and tailor-made assessments can increase engagement levels and supplement knowledge retention. On top of that, refresher modules keep leaders aware while instant knowledge updates keep them on their feet. Your leaders will be ready to tackle existing problems more efficiently, and new ones without hesitation.

Mastech Digital, a digital transformation IT services company, offers digital learning services as a platform for augmented executive performance and enhanced organizational success. With rich experience and proven success in handling several digital learning engagements across industries, our team of learning experts is fully equipped to take your leaders, and your company, to the next level.

 

Author James Wallace
James Wallace
Consultant Manager